KOLKATA: The prestige of hosting the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup on the back of the unprecedented response of the senior women’s event in France last summer hit a setback in the ensuing pandemic. But FIFA chief of women’s football, Sarai Bareman, feels that the premier women’s competition could be a beacon of hope for the country in its quest to get back to normalcy.
The biggest sporting event for women in India, which was scheduled from November 2 to 21, had to be postponed due to the COVID 19 menace and FIFA rescheduled it for February 17 to March 7.
Speaking at a webinar hosted by PIFA Foundation, Bareman told the TOI that FIFA was confident of the country hosting a successful U-17 World Cup for women. “I think we shouldn’t just look at the negative impact of the delay in hosting the event. I believe that the World Cup, when it happens, will be an uplifting way for the country to get back to normalcy. It can be the beacon of hope that everyone is looking for,” said the New Zealand-born Bareman.
Bareman also expressed confidence in the organizers and the government in making the premier U17 event a big success. “I have been in touch with Roma Khanna (tournament director of LOC) and have also met Mr (Kiren) Rijiju (Union minister for sports) a few times. I have also spoken to government representatives and the sports minister after the postponement and their support for the tournament has remained strong, maybe even stronger now,” she added.
“You shouldn’t also forget that India had already hosted a successful U17 Men’s World Cup just a couple of years back. I was present for the final in Kolkata and it was incredible. That experience, I believe, will help the country make the women’s edition a success too.”
Bareman, who played rugby in New Zealand before discovering her love for football, became the head of the Samoa football association after visiting the island country to find her roots as her mother was of Samoan origin. She revealed how the 2015 FIFA scandal helped her find a voice for women in the world football body and, in turn, become a prominent voice in promoting women’s football.
“I was the only female representative in the reform committee formed after the scandal. It helped me advocate the necessity for more women in the body and also ask for more funds for women’s football. The new FIFA president (Gianni) Infantino has been very supportive in the cause,” said Bareman.
The targeted developmental programmes for women reaped its dividends this year when FIFA Women’s World Cup became the most successful sporting event for women ever. An unprecedented 2 billion tuned in for the football bonanza with an average of 15 million viewers per game. Bareman would like to see the momentum being taken advantage of by India when they host the U17 event next year.
“The commercial benefits of men’s football have almost reached its saturation. But the prospects in the women’s game in still in its infancy. If we take into account the success in France, the U17 World Cup in India will be an opportunity to work on innovations to involve more people in the women’s game,” the chief of women’s football said.